The creative tension of experimentation and rigor. New programs planned with discipline and new methods for established programs. Cost conscious test-driven project development. Managing evolution and revolution.

“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein

Metrics based on logic models. Nonprofit "business intelligence" driven by your programs, not technology. Acquiring, displaying, communicating, and applying the right numbers. A commitment to evidence.

“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.” — Bertrand Russell

An accurate and deep intuitive understanding. Disciplined thinking and shared understanding. Theories of Change and Logic Models. Rigorous, testable project plans. Toward the learning organization.

“He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Whole systems thinking. Leveraging networks, both inside and outside the organization. Respecting barriers and managing change. Testing models. Decisions based on evidence. The right information to the right people at the right time. Think big, start small.

"It's easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date." — Roger von Oech

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Does Evidence Matter to Grantmakers?

Data, Logic, and the Lack thereof in the Largest U.S. Foundations

Does Evidence Matter to Grantmakers?

To some degree, funders — whether individual donors, foundations, or government agencies — have always wanted to know that their contributions are making a difference. Their means often differ: They may place different weight on this knowledge, or they may take different roads to get there, or they may even have secondary objectives that are more important than the programmatic ones. But whether it’s through the emotional power of narrative, the social power of credibility, or the rigorous power of evidence, funders have always had some way of assuring themselves that their donations are actually working.

Over the course of the last twenty years, momentum has been building toward a greater emphasis on the role of evidence in the assessment of organizational effectiveness. For a number of reasons, information and communication technologies have played a huge role in encouraging and facilitating this movement. In fact, the advances in technology in civil society and the trends related to evidence and effectiveness in grantmaking are nearly inseparable.

At the intersection of those trends, a number of organizations were founded in the last twenty years. Some were explicitly focused on grantmaking. For example, Grantmakers for Effective Philanthropy was founded in 1997 and The Center for Effective Philanthropy got its start in 2001. Others found themselves influencing grantmaking without being directly focused on philanthropy. These include Innonet, which was founded in 1992 and The Gilbert Center itself, which was founded in 1996. Other older organizations have also started programs focusing on evidence and effectiveness in civil society in general and grantmaking in particular. Taken together, the result of the last twenty years is the emergence of a small community of practice, along with some excellent research.

In 2011, the research staff of The Gilbert Center set about the tasking of advancing the field of research on evidence-based practices in grantmaking. We wanted to open new doors in this field, including the use of modern techniques such as data mining and semantic analysis. We were similarly interested in a focus on behavioral data, such as published documents and grantmaking decisions. These are methods that we’ve applied for years in other fields and we felt that their application to this particular field was long overdue.

The result of this decision was a year-long research project and our forthcoming report: Does Evidence Matter to Grantmakers? Data, Logic, and the Lack thereof in the Largest U.S. Foundations.

The report will be published soon and will sell for $249. We are making Does Evidence Matter to Grantmakers available for pre-order and the pre-order price of $189 is guaranteed until April 21, 2012.

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The best answer to date about whether evidence matters to the largest grantmakers: We make the claim that this is the best answer to date because we base our analysis on data that is not self-reported (such as surveys about practices or aspirations). The report shows us how much these grantmakers care about evidence of effectiveness on the basis of their publicly documented practices, the language they use to talk about their work, and a five year history of their grantmaking.

A closer look at each and every one of the foundations in our sample: Most reports focus on presenting aggregate results, with perhaps a little segmentation thrown in. We do both of those, of course, but we go much further. We examine each foundation, score it in a number of ways, and place it in the context of the field as a whole.

Detailed descriptions of our methods, to the point of enabling reproduction of our work: Reproducibility is the standard in academic research, but is often neglected by researchers in civil society. In dedicating substantial space to our methods, we serve two objectives. First, we know that this research is the not the last word on this topic. Indeed, we are eager to see methodological issues that escaped our attention. We suspect this will include both hidden weaknesses and hidden strengths. Second, we want to encourage other researchers begin to use new techniques (such as data mining and semantic analysis) in their work.

Dozens of stories about today’s grantmaking, backed by evidence: This report is itself rich enough to be mined for insightful gems about the sector and does not present a single headline conclusion. Certainly we do not offer the concluding narrative found in much of today’s research — “Results were mixed. There is room for improvement. We recommend more research.” Instead, we think there are at least a couple of dozen stories to be told based on this report, not counting the story of each of the individual foundations involved. Some of those stories we’ve identified. Some remain for others to discern. And some will only come to light when you yourself read the report.

Rich graphical resources: Finally, we know that one of the ways in which we can help improve the impact of our research is to empower other professionals to present aspects of this research to their colleagues and stakeholders. This might range from a single factoid in a blog post to a full change-making case in a presentation to organizational leaders. We’ve filled the report to the brim with graphics that provide an enormous range of views of the evidence at hand.

If you’re undecided about the report and you have questions, please don’t hesitate to write or call.

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Foundations Included in the Study

Adelson Family Foundation
Alfred P Sloan Foundation
Andrew W Mellon Foundation
Annenberg Foundation
Bernard Osher Foundation
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Boston Foundation
California Community Foundation
California Endowment
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Chicago Community Trust
Cleveland Foundation
Communities Foundation of Texas
Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Conrad N Hilton Foundation
David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Donald W Reynolds Foundation
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Duke Endowment
Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Ford Foundation
Foundation for the Carolinas
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Greater Cincinnati Foundation
Greater Houston Community Foundation
Greater Kansas City Community Foundation
Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
Heinz Endowments
Houston Endowment
James Irvine Foundation
John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation
John S and James L Knight Foundation
John Templeton Foundation
Kresge Foundation
Lilly Endowment
Lumina Foundation for Education
Marin Community Foundation
McKnight Foundation
Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
New York Community Trust
Omaha Community Foundation
Open Society Foundations
Oregon Community Foundation
Robert W Woodruff Foundation
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Robertson Foundation
Rockefeller Foundation
San Francisco Foundation
Sea Change Foundation
Sherwood Foundation
Silicon Valley Community Foundation
Simons Foundation
Starr Foundation
T Boone Pickens Foundation
Tulsa Community Foundation
W K Kellogg Foundation
Walton Family Foundation
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
William Penn Foundation


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Corporate License:

    This publication comes with a Corporate License, this means that it is for use by people within your organization/company. You may make a paper copy for internal circulation (only to be shared and viewed by official members/employees of your organization/company). You may post it to your intranet, so long as access to that intranet is restricted to official members/employees of your organization/company.

Does Evidence Matter to Grantmakers?



$249 – Retail price, which will go into effect on the day of publication.

$189 – special discounted (24% Off) pre-order price

Custom reports for individual foundations will be available for $949 (price of main report can be applied)